Back in Hong Kong: Missed the Chaos

Hong Kong was visited by a typhoon, Prapiroon, which threw the air traffic situation into total chaos. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or diverted. Thousands of people spent the night at the airport.

The Hong Kong Observatory hoisted a number 3 signal instead of a number 8. Their criteria had to do with the wind force at Victoria Harbor. So even though the winds did not reach 100 KMH there they were over 200 KMH at the airport. Times have changed since the current system was installed in 1917. Boats are not the major concern, anymore. In true bureaucratic fashion the Observatory said they acted just as they were supposed to without acknowledging that following the rules to the letter put people’s lives in danger and helped create a mess at Chek Lap Kok Airport.

I was personally lucky as I had a reservation on the first flight out of Heathrow on Friday. People on cancelled flights queued up for hours to try and get on later flights. Some were told to come back Monday. My flight left the gate on time and arrived a little early at Chek Lap Kok. Except for a longer than usual wait for luggage, caused by the overflow from the previous two days, all went well.

The airport and the airlines were scathingly criticized as it appeared they were unprepared for the crisis. My experience, based on well over one million miles of air travel, is when something like this happens, leave the airport, find a place to stay as soon as possible and use the phone and or the internet, rather than try to solve your problem at the airport. I do sympatize with the passengers who were loaded on planes for 4-6 hours and then told the flight is cancelled. Perhaps the airlines were fooled by the Number 3 warning and thought they might get away.

I sat on my outbound flight, July 14, for four hours while Cathay Pacific fixed an air-conditioning problem. If they had not been able to fix it, we would have had our flight cancelled. I didn’t wait, though, and as soon as I knew when we were leaving I phoned my travel agent who managed to protect me on a connecting flight to Dublin. Cathay said they had me protected but, if they did, Aer Lingus, didn’t know about it.

Point is that if I hadn’t called my travel agent, I would have called Aer Lingus directly even if I had to phone London to do it. When things start to go wrong on a trip, prompt direct action is the only technique that works. Airline counter people are often the last to find out what’s going on.

I still think Chel Lap Kok is the best airport in the world and that Cathay Pacific is the best airline. Fewer people will agree with that after the latest snafu, but one bad day in almost ten years is not an indicator of over-all performance.